A Sicilian fishing trawler that had been seized overnight by suspected pirates off the coast of Libya was retaken by the Italian navy Friday, Reuters said. If the offenders were indeed pirates, it would be the first piracy attack reported in the Mediterranean Sea, which has become increasingly tumultuous in recent years.
The motorized Sicilian fishing boat, which had three Italians and four Tunisians aboard, was stopped by a tugboat around 55 miles from the Libyan port of Misrata late Thursday. Italian navy officials boarded the trawler soon after it was seized and regained control. The Italian defense ministry did not say whether there was any struggle between the naval personnel and the tugboat’s crew, or what happened to them and the trawler, Reuters reported.
The Italian defense ministry said the tugboat was likely owned by Libyan security forces, which have often stopped trawlers in the past to investigate disputes over fishing territories. However, a Sicilian fishing trade association said pirates were likely involved in the incident. “This is probably an act of piracy because the tugboat that approached the trawler had no Libyan governmental insignia,” Francesco Mezzapelle, a spokesman for the group, told Reuters.
Although there have been no reports of pirate attacks in the Mediterranean, hundreds of thousands of migrants have traveled across the stretch of water to escape ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, Libya and other parts of North Africa. About 13,000 people have been rescued at sea in the last two weeks, and around 1,000 have reportedly drowned this year alone, Reuters said.
Some are willing to pay the smugglers thousands of dollars to board their ships. The voyage is perilous and the conditions harrowing, but many people have risked their lives in hopes of better conditions in Europe. The number of migrants arriving in Europe is expected to skyrocket in the coming months as the summer weather improves sailing conditions.
Muslim migrants trying to travel from Libya to Italy killed 12 Christians migrants on a trafficking ship Thursday by throwing them overboard to die in the Mediterranean, CNN reported.